Vanessa Lindsay operates Ness Lindsay
, a virtual assistant company specializing in the real estate market, and located in Ontario, Canada. A VA in her third year of business, Vanessa's been a member of the Forums since she first established what is now a thriving enterprise. Many thanks, Vanessa, for your vivid responses here!
Members, please feel free to comment or ask questions on this thread.
Vanessa, please give us the long-story-short: what is your background, and what's the history of your business' startup and progress up to now?
I began my virtual assistant career with the notion that I wanted to help everyone and anyone that would hire me. In January 2007, I started Girl Friday with this intention in mind and I began marketing my business to small business owners, entrepreneurs and busy professionals.
In August of 2007, I landed a business relationship with a top producing real estate team. It was this client relationship that became the pivotal moment in my career. Through this team; I was able to challenge myself and my abilities and prove to myself and others that I was a success and could definitely grow my small business into a successful company from home.
Unbeknownst to me, I found a hidden passion. This particular client became my mentor and has taught me all that I know today about the real estate industry. In January of 2008, I realized the importance of having a business focus and that led to the opening of Ness Lindsay - a virtual assistant company specializing in the real estate market. Once I started Ness Lindsay, I then completed the Real Estate Professional Assistant (REPA) course offered by the National Association of Realtors.
Prior to becoming a virtual assistant, I unofficially worked for the past ten years with family, friends and acquaintances; completing their administrative and creative assignments. I also worked in the transportation industry for five years as an Assistant to Operations Management.
You work with a team of VAs. Please share some pointers with us about that. How do you go about hiring team members, and what are some of the good and not-so-good things about managing a team?
Expanding my business has been an absolutely thrilling and exciting process. I am fortunate enough to hire team members that are family or within my circle of friends. This has been less stressful and easier as I know my team members and I have a lot of trust in them.
My biggest advice is to have your systems in place right from the start. When I first began my VA business back in 2007, it was my dream to have a team of VAs. I knew this was the direction I wanted my business to take and so, right from the start, I put systems in place for when it did happen. Then it was just a matter of time before I could hire members and implement my systems.
It has been so much fun and such a rewarding experience. Having a team working with me enables me to delegate the work load, and reduces my stressors. This is essentially what I strive to portray to my clients. Delegation is such a huge part of my business. I was used to being the sole person but by having people on my team that I know and trust has allowed me to put my fears aside and confidently delegate work to the appropriate member.
The hardest part of having a team is creating a balance, and learning to manage my entire team. I am always aware of what each team member is working on and their deadlines etc. It was difficult to learn how to ensure everyone is being taken care of in the beginning. However, my team and I make use of our Outlook calendars, email and of course our Blackberries. We are always on the same page and we all have the same goals of making this company a success.
Tell us about your work as a REVA. What's interesting and fun about it? Has it been relatively easy to find clients in the field, and is the market steady despite recent economic troubles?
I absolutely *LOVE* the real estate industry! Working with my passion on a daily basis is very rewarding. I love the challenge that my clients bring to the table and striving to help each client grow their business and stand out amongst their competitors.
Finding that first big client was difficult, it took a lot of hard work and diligent marketing. My first big client is a top producing team and is well respected in the industry so their opinion is very important to their colleagues. 95% of my business came as a direct word of mouth.
Today’s economy is a very difficult time for everyone. Smart agents are taking the time to build their systems and to work on marketing strategies that they may not have had the time to do before. Agents also have time now to investigate the services of a VA; therefore we are getting a lot more inquiries on how we can help them to promote their business and put better systems in place. Agents are finding that a VA is a cost effective tool for successful business in the real estate market.
Which of your services do you personally most enjoy doing? Which are the hardest for you?
I find the most joy in creating something for a client that they haven’t had before. Whether it is their website, or a piece of marketing material or their branded banner; these items tend to get the most “WOWs” out of the client because they haven’t had it before.
Recently, we have begun offering on-site consultation meetings with clients and it is amazing. We sit down and start brainstorming what they are doing now and where they want to go. So many times we have heard “You are a genius, why didn’t I think of that”. Statements like these solidify the reason I am in business.
The hardest assignment for me to complete has been writing. I love to write but I tend to write the way I speak, it makes sense to me. So, I now have a team member that handles all the writing material. I do complete my own projects, but I also get Debbie to proofread the larger assignments that go out just to ensure that everything is in proper order.
Over a year ago, you posted on the Forums a wonderful list of marketing tips. What are some new ones you've experimented with since then?
Since I wrote that post I have been attending training sessions and conferences with some of my clients. This has been a great opportunity for me to meet other agents in person. Having a client introduce my company to a room full of agents definitely speaks volumes. I recently attended a training session where my client was training other agents. I spoke to agents about the virtual assistant industry and how we can help agents manage their daily tasks. From this session which was about 2 months ago, I have already landed three retainer clients and am following up with a few others.
As always, word of mouth is huge. I reward my clients when they mention me or refer my company to another agent. I have also seen the effects of consistently following-up and following through. In the beginning, I felt like I was hassling prospects and I was getting discouraged. I spoke with my mentors and their simple response was “Vanessa, no business today doesn’t mean no business tomorrow.” This statement has stuck with me, and I constantly follow-up with prospects either through a “How’s it going?” email, a monthly newsletter or our new welcome package.
How much time every week do you spend on marketing? What are your regular practices for keeping up your visibility with potential clients?
On average we tend to spend at least five hours a week on Marketing. We write blog posts, have a Facebook page as well as a Twitter account. To be honest though, our marketing truly comes from word of mouth. In the beginning I would probably spend at least five hours a day on marketing alone, but after being in the business for two years, I am finally at the point that I don’t have to market everyday and prospects are hearing about us.
Clearly one of your regular practices is blogging. Please talk a bit about how you organize your thoughts and writings, and how your blog helps in terms of business.
Blogging for me is so much fun now. When I was just learning about blogging, I was so intimidated and downright scared. Now, it serves more as an output for me to share my thoughts and ideas with prospective clients. I tell them how I see it, what I think they should do or something that has worked for others.
I don’t have a set theme or topic base when I blog. Sometimes I hear a sentence or topic of discussion and it rings a bell for a post that I can expand on. I also think about the current month, what is happening and how I can relate it to a blog post.
Blogging helps my business as it further portrays my abilities and skill level to prospective clients. If you can blog about topics and make sense to the readers, they will be more inclined to write a comment or even better seek your assistance on future projects. I would certainly recommend every VA business to actively write blog posts.
We always love reading about our colleagues' typical day. What's yours? Give us a morning to night rundown.
First and foremost, my priorities lie with my family. Therefore, every morning I get my two children Faith (9) and Austin (5) ready for school. I then take a quick trip to my local Tim Horton’s to get my creative juices flowing. By 9:00am I am at my desk and checking my email. I ensure I respond to any pressing issues from the day before and then it is on to my to-do list.
Each day I have a mini session with my team members who are working on client projects. I ask them where they are at, how are they doing for deadlines and ensure they are taking care all of their tasks before pursuing my own projects.
At noon, I have lunch until 1:00pm and I try most days to physically leave my office as though I was working outside of my home. It gives me the chance to regroup, take a break and start fresh again after lunch.
Most afternoons are spent answering emails and completing or working on client projects. On slower days, I will write a blog post in the afternoon or work on my website or researching information. I leave the office at 3:00 pm to pick up my children from school and I don’t go back into the office until they are in bed at night.
In the evenings, I am back at work again until 9:00 pm at which time I sign off and try to spend some quality time with my husband or just have some down time.
I do work on-site with some clients as well, so there are days when I am at their office or attending meetings or luncheons.
Do you have a long-term plan for your business? What will you be working on 3 years in the future?
Yes, I have several long-term plans for my business. A couple of them are: As I mentioned previously, we will move away from the Girl Friday business and focus solely on Ness Lindsay. I will expand my team to offer more expertise to our clients and at the same time expand our client base. I will also be achieving my real estate license so that I can become a licensed assistant and offer additional services to clients. I have also given some thought to writing a book about becoming a VA and starting your own VA business.
If you ever have any off-hours, what do you do with them? Any special outside interests?
I love spending time with my husband and children and try to do whatever possible with them during my off-hours. I am an avid reader and tend to devour a book in a short period of time. If I am not reading true crime novels, I love to soak up any business book I can get my hands on. I am currently reading The Millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller and Top Ten Agent by Brandon Cornett. I am also looking forward to the summer and sitting around the pool on a hot summer’s day.
Finally, tell us about your participation here on the Virtual Assistant Forums. How has it benefited you, and has your use of the resource changed over time as your business develops?
When I first started my business back in 2007, I so desperately wanted to make this business a success, but I was a little overwhelmed and a little scared. I was a member of other VA forums but I never quite felt I “fit in” amongst all the thousands of other members. It just happened that I came across VAF and reluctantly I created a membership due to my negative experience with the other forums.
Ha, boy I was very wrong! Immediately I felt welcomed and I was so relieved to see the organized wealth of resources available. I was captivated by the success stories of others and completely blown away by everyone’s willingness to share tips and new resources they’ve either used or heard of.
In no time at all, I was addicted to VAF! If I had a question, I would search through the forum before doing a search on Google. If I was unsure about something I wasn’t afraid to post my question for all to view and respond to. The entire forum is so friendly and supportive…it truly is amazing.
As my business began to grow, my need for the Virtual Assistant Forums grew too. I searched new topics, posted new questions, and explored different avenues related to growing a business. That’s what I like about this site; it isn’t just for a start up business. It is very useful at any stage in your career.